Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Loo's Three Simple Steps To Bolero Success

Step 1: Perfect your synchrony between your vocalisation of "gung-ging-gung, pak, pak" and your hip movement.
You should feel the most pressure through the soles of your feet at "ging"
You should feel the most stretch around the outside of your hips at the second "gung"
Do this without music

Step 2: Listen to Bolero Teaching CD1 and pick out the tracks where "gung-ging-gung" is clearest.
Listen for the drums' "gung-ging-gung" sound
Synchronise your "gung-ging-gung" vocalisation with the drums' "gung-ging-gung" sound

Step 3: Hips, vocals and bolero song all-together
Listen for the drums' "gung-ging-gung" sound
Synchronise your "gung-ging-gung" vocalisation with the drums' "gung-ging-gung" sound
Synchronise your hip movements to your "gung-ging-gung" vocalisation AND the drums' "gung-ging-gung" sound

Easy Peasy :-D

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Solares Debuts

I decided to open Solares as I mean to go on, with a workshop on bolero.

The slow tempo Cuban dance genre was selected because of the attending audience: all of them had been dancing studio or academy salsa for years. I wanted to provide a complementary experience; to develop skill sets under-emphasised by convention, and these features are key:

A convention of non-verbal vocalisations
Creating sounds with the human voice as a means of learning and propagating rhythm in the African tradition. We began with the vocalisation "gung-ging-gung" simulating the conga open tones of the bolero tumbao instead of an European-centric count of "and-4-and".

Synchronising movement to vocalisations
The lateral cradle-swing of the hips, thus transferring weight, was timed to the "gung-ging-gung" vocalisation. This brings the practice immediately to the First Stage of Independence (FSI), where each student is able to practice this without any external support. FSI is crucial for self-motivated, engaged students who would like to function in a flipped learning environment.
"Flipped Learning is a pedagogical approach in which direct instruction moves from the group learning space to the individual learning space, and the resulting group space is transformed into a dynamic, interactive learning environment where the educator guides students as they apply concepts and engage creatively in the subject matter." (from
Correlating vocalisations to sonic artefacts in the music
Understanding that the sounds they produce have their counterparts in music, and that this relationship between human-generated sounds and instrument-generated sounds is one of co-operative complementarity, not of dominance-subservience.

Synchronising movement to sonic cues
Once sonic (vocal) and kinesthetic (movement) production is matched, the sonic production is synchronised to the sonic artefacts in the music, resulting, too, in synchronised movement.

Raising the seat up timing
Conventional salsa studio instruction is foot-based i.e. it is the foot-placement to the floor which is correlated to each number of the count. This means that the rest of the body, most importantly the hips and heart, move, and are felt to move after the beat. This causes a dissonance, and even disconnection with the rhythm. (Hearing-impaired dancers have better rhythm because they are taught to feel the low-frequency vibrations of music in their chest.)

The synchronous "gung-ging-gung"-pelvic sway practice moves the seat of timing off the floor, up to hip level.

Fine control of movement
With a tempo range of 80-100bpm, there is twice as much rhythmic distance between each beat in the bolero compared to salsa (160-220bpm). Movements must be made more slowly and smoothly in order to fill these elongated spaces.

The greatest challenge faced by any attendee is a conceptual one. Having spent years being selected for and being optimised in an European learning convention, whom might cope with the change to a non-European learning context?

Loo Yeo

Thursday, March 06, 2014

The Rueda Academy - The Key Concepts

At the Academy, we believe rueda:

  • has a framework based on the Cuban son
  • has a basic timing which is atiempo
  • has the performance musculature of rumba
  • is home to cultural accents, like those derived from dances dedicated to the Orishas
  • is a synchronous coordinated ensemble activity
  • has tremendous freedom for creative self-expression
  • should involve on-lookers equally

We achieve this by addressing ideas and dance skills at three scales:

1. The individual scale – “your voice in the story”
We ensure that you bring your best rhythms to the party
We free you to express your joy compellingly
We help you exude confidence
We help you become a cultural insider

2. The rueda couple scale – “expressions in conversation”
You’ll appreciate the rueda couple as the ‘wheel within the wheel’ providing the internal dynamic of the larger wheel
We help you feel and understand the circular energy of rueda at the couple level
You’ll learn how to leave room in your dancing to let your partner ‘speak’
We help you listen to what your partner has to say
You’ll understand the purpose of a move and the meaning of a call

3. The Rueda de Casino scale – “an epic tale”
We’ll play with the building-blocks of rueda de casino
We’ll delve the properties of a mass-coordinated activity
What is good quality?
We build resilience: ‘When things do go wrong, how do we cope with it? How can we enjoy it?’
You’ll learn how to keep the rueda open to invite the participation of on-lookers

Eşref Ulaş
Loo Yeo

Saturday, March 01, 2014

Solares - The Key Concepts


Imagine you could dance any dance that Spanish America could throw at you.
Imagine you could feel the meaning of each song, each movement, as though born to it.
Imagine you had the confidence and ability to absorb new dances in a heartbeat.

What if this could be true?

The Principles of Solares

Solares is built on an innovative approach to multi-genre instruction – it emphasises the similarities of Latin dance, placing all movement and rhythm skills common to all genres at its core. It’s closer to how natives learn.

Wrapped around this universal core are the configuration skills – abilities which allow you to recognise a genre, tailor your movement and express the rhythms necessary to characterise that genre.

Universality and adaptability combine to produce genre agility: the ability to move seamlessly, instantly, between genres/dance types just as natives do.

Although Solares is centred on the development of skills, dance moves will be used:

  • as a means of providing genre context;
  • to build move and movement vocabularies;
  • in cultural case-examples; and
  • as elemental building-blocks in combination-building.

The Concepts

Yvonne Daniel, a dance ethnographer from the United States, studied, trained and performed as a troupe member of Havana-based Conjunto Folklórico Nacional de Cuba. In her book ‘Rumba: Dance and Social Change in Contemporary Cuba’ (1995) is the observation:
“African cabildos (secret societies) in Cuba contributed to the crystallisation of certain African dance/music concepts in the Americas: that music and dance are not primarily entertainment forms; that music and dance are interdependent; that their structure utilises both set and improvisational elements; that complexity and depth are built by the layering and interfacing of small, simple, diverse units; that the human body is paramount.”
Thus the key concepts are:

  • music and dance are not primarily entertainment forms
  • music and dance are interdependent
  • their structure utilises both set and improvisational elements
  • complexity and depth are built by the layering and interfacing of small, simple, diverse units
  • the human body is paramount

Is Solares for you?

Take a moment to reflect on some key-concept questions:

The nature of interdependency between music and dance – ‘dancemusic’
How have the Europeans made us listen?
Why have the Africans driven us to dance?
Has modernity quietened our primal voices?
“How African is your dancing?” “How European is your dancemusic?” “When did you decide?”

The human body is paramount
How you move is who you are: your body and how you choose to use it is your CV.
How you move is what you believe in, so “what do you believe in?”
Your quality of movement is your personal history
“What are you saying?” “What would you like to say?” “How could you say it?”

Afro-Caribbean music-dance structures utilise both set and improvisational elements
Do natives learn your basics?
Do you let your partner dance? (macro-structure: marcas, combinations and calls)
Have you danced with the saints? (micro-structural elements, motifs and gestures)

Complexity and depth are built by the layering and interfacing of small, simple, diverse units
How much dancemusic can a single body hold?
How nimble are your feelings? (the spirit of dance lives in the in-between)
Would you jangle the keys to Heaven? (hyper-learning the elements and cues of improvisation)
Does your dance sing?

African-derived ‘dancemusics’ in the Americas are not primarily entertainment forms
Where you dance is who you are (social spaces of dancemusic)
Is it in your blood? (Ethnomusicology and embedded meaning)
Do the drums nudge you playfully? (giving as good as you get in live situations)

If you’d like to understand the questions better then Solares could be for you, because the answers to them can already be found inside you.

To express interest, you can contact Loo via:
Loo Yeo

Friday, February 14, 2014

And I dub thee "Solares"

We're going ahead with the weekly workshops.

I've just emerged from the throes of articulating the specification document for my session, from which I'm deriving the outward-facing i.e. student-facing interest-capturing blurb. (I'm also writing the blurb for Eşref's session.) Then there's the tough question of what to call it - as tortuous and as important as the opening line of a book - because it sets the tone for everything.

It has to have cultural meaning
It has to be completely symbolic of the learning ethos
It has to be pronounceable
It as to be natural
It has to be honest
It's going to be Solares.

"Why the Spanish word for 'courtyards'?" you might ask.

Solares has a deeper meaning. Solares are tenement buildings, blocks of single-room apartments, opening onto a central courtyard. Each apartment would house an entire family, and facilities like water and sanitation were shared. Just because slavery ended, it did not mean an end to misery nor poverty. These urban experiments in housing the poor were Pan-Caribbean and objects of institutional shame in the early 20th century, "teeming with mullattoes and blacks" (Irene Alice Wright, Latin American Studies Association Conference, Miami, Florida, 2002) and associated with squalor.

"Why on Earth would you name it after that?!?" you might ask in horror.

I believe that our greatest social dances were born out of poverty and social injustice. Solares doesn't celebrate it, solares acknowledges it. The sessions will look to allow for the African voice to re-enter the dialogue of Caribbean dance - a voice I believe erased when U.S.American and European ballroomers codified Latin American dance. The central courtyard was a focus of social activity, and despite abject conditions, ritmo continued to be produced, to flourish and to grow in these communal spaces throughout the Caribbean.

The Solares Workshops will not be about salsa. It will be ambitious. It will be about the Pan-Caribbean experience of music and its embodiment in its communities.

Loo Yen Yeo

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Clear Objectives: A Return to Teaching

Esh and I have been talking about offering dance lessons.

That's for want of a better term. It's stemmed from my one-to-one workshop sessions with him,.and we'd had Elaine, a mutual friend drop by the occasional three-hour Sunday who'd gotten quite absorbed in them. So it occurred to me to ask, "how about we open this up?" Not in a commercial sense, but to people we know whom might be keen. After all, it's just as easy for me to run a session for a small gathering of individuals as it is for one; and, there's the opportunity of developing partnered skills.

Besides, given the unconventional format and flipped-learning model, I wouldn't anticipate that attendee retention would be high, given that the general populace of dancers have already been pre-selected and optimised for conventional instruction.

But I'd have to get something out of this as well, apart from an altruistic joy of teaching. It wouldn't be financial - I've always preferred a social contract to a financial one. So I've articulated some clear personal objectives should I choose to proceed. I think it's crucial to have these, not only to determine the direction of development, but also to judge the value of the activity.

Principal objectives
  1. Explore the externally-perceived value of a contrasting pedagogic ethos
  2. Data generation for on-going dance research
  3. Validation of pedagogic hypotheses
  4. Continued personal development as dance educator and proponent
On the up-side, that commercial viability is not a necessity will allow for plenty of scope in implementation. On the down-side, how does one satisfy the contradictory notions of: being able to accept newcomers/accommodating people who have essential commitments flexibly, with the need for clear progression?

Loo Yeo

Monday, January 06, 2014

Cultural Mark, Social Brand

There's nothing like a hard deadline to focus the mind. And with our commitment to launching our Latin dance social event, there's been a lot of focussing lately. I don't think Esh, Steve and I have been in such sustained contact, ever!

Apart from the bringing together of materials and investment in capital assets i.e. the operations facet, the most important long-term decision is, "what to call it?" It has to have the opportunity to grow into a name of social meaning, to reflect the uniqueness we feel the night can (and should) be. Yes, it will be a brand, but it'll be less the values of Monsanto and more Rainforest Alliance. Or maybe Eataly.

Whatever it is, I have a few parameters.

The word or phrase has got to have a nice internal rhythm to its pronunciation, to make it an easy handle to grasp

Cultural Dimension
I would like to see this as a place where both Latin Americans and locals alike feel comfortable. It has to have elements of cultural grounding in the Caribbean, and hence have 'authenticity'.

As I envision the music policy to be broad, encompassing such like: vallenato (for Colombians), gaita (for Venezuelans), cumbia (for Chileans, Mexicans), bachata (locals and Latins), merengue (for Latins), timba (for Cubans, Cubanophiles and Casinoholics), and a main staple of salsa (from romantica to dura); the symbol must have a dimension which crosses the Caribbean and South America.

It should be one that has not been seen before in the local environment, in this context.

'Empty' Term
I suspect my co-partners would want to go with something which has 'salsa' in the title. I feel that whereas that might help us get up and running quickly, as people hearing it would think they know what to expect, it is that same expectation which would hinder the brand in the long term. The better, (albeit harder) way is to choose an 'empty' term and imbue it with our own meanings, rather than try to adapt one with existing meanings.

This is a concept most immigrant parents or those of different cultures face when choosing names for their children. A good number of them choose names which are pronounced similarly in both (or more) languages.

Social Dimension
Wherever and however the mark is derived, it has to convey a strong social dimension which I feel should be the core of what we do.

So, all in all quite one of the easiest things to do. I already have a few candidates.

Loo Yeo

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

New Year's Eve 2013 Old Skool Disco @Creswell Social Centre

I'd just settled down in front of the telly-box in anticipation of a musical evening capped with Jool's Annual Hootenanny. Everything was right: the comfy socks, the hot beverage, mince pies... New Year's Eve is quality 'me' time.

Then the phone rang:

"Loo, get ready. I'm coming by to pick you up in 30 minutes. We're going to an old skool disco," said Esh.
"Eh?" said I.
"Old Skool Disco.." enunciated Esh, much more slowly.
I thought he'd gone looney-tunes. 'Why on Earth would I give up a Hootenanny for a night that can't even manage to play one song all the way through?' I thought to myself.
"It's at a possible venue for our dance night," cajoled Esh.

At that point, the prospect of quality 'me' time bleated as it was sacrificed on the altar of Latin social dance. "Okay," I sighed.

An hour and a half later and we, Esh and I, were standing at the threshold of Creswell Social Club's main hall. This is what we saw:

Old Skool
Revellers shuffled from foot to foot, clutching their prized golden nectar in plastic cups, some mouthing lyrics from fragments of songs by Bon Jovi. Air, made acrid with artificial smoke, occasionally lanced by sharp beams of primary colour, pounded with the weight of an overpowered system. Spots of white versus off-white battled for supremacy across the lid of a giant box.

I looked to my right and read Esh's expression.
"Not feeling the love, huh?" I observed.
He shook his head, despondent.
"Don't worry, I can make this work" I said.
He looked surprised, tinged with a good handful of disbelief.
"Trust me."

This wasn't my first rodeo, and I could see its potential immediately. The plus features of the room were its:
  • width - close enough for people to mingle and not feel exposed when crossing over to ask for a dance;
  • size - large enough for a decent capacity yet, crucially, intimate enough that a good atmosphere could be had with smaller attendance numbers;
  • height - the ceiling was high enough to draw away some of the heat, and had fans for circulation; and,
  • dance-floor - a slightly-sprung hardwood floor, kept in good nick (even past the spilt beer), with no detectable steel-joist hard-points beneath.
All the key aspects for dancers' comfort were addressed in the room. With the right lighting, and imaginative dressing, this unpromising duckling could be swanified.

"I need to check their loos" I said. The business-person in me learned, a long time ago, that the state of the toilet facilities are the clearest indication of staff morale. Creswell's were modern and immaculate, easily the best I'd seen at a social club anywhere. Dancers with expensive dance shoes appreciate good facilities.

Steve then took Esh and I into the kitchen area to meet the venue manager, Pat - a slim lady, with bright eyes, gentle smile, and kind no-nonsense demeanour. She listened to our plans in an unhurried manner (in the midst of a busy New Year's Eve service period), then said, "Let me get out the venue diary for the year."

I'd expected her to say "let me think about this and contact you." Caught on the hop, I knew we had to take an immediate plunge or lose organisational credibility. We'd come prepared. I'd already identified the first Saturday of every month as the best candidate:
  • Fridays were always a rush for most working people, yours truly included, whereas a Saturday evening event meant for a more leisurely build-up of anticipation;
  • the first Saturday of the month slotted in well with the cycle of monthly events in the region, it having become available after a promoter had decided to cease a running regular event; and,
  • previous experience told me that the first Saturday after pay day was less vulnerable to seasonal fluctuations.
We committed to start on the 1st of March 2014 - a mere two months away - and confirmed the dates for six months, pencilling the other dates for the remainder of the year (with a view to confirming them or not after an internal four-month review).

Esh and I left Creswell with a sharply renewed focus. There's nothing like making a commitment to crystallise the mind. Now I have to make good on my promise of transforming Creswell into a delightful swan of a place to Latin dance in.

I took a deep breath.